MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Seattle ahead of Saturday’s visit from Portland

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Ahead of Saturdays’ first-leg of this conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about the Seattle Sounders: (Saturday’s match kicks off at 10 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN):

  • DeAndre Yedlin? Maybe. Obafemi Martins? Who knows.

Rookie left back DeAndre Yedlin had a great first half on Wednesday. Unfortunately for the Sounders, he didn’t get a chance to repeat it in the second, a twisted ankle forcing him off at halftime.

The 20-year-old trained Friday but will be a game time decision. If he can’t go, Brad Evans seems like the most likely choice. Sigi Schmid elected to drop the U.S. international back from midfield in the second half when he could have brought Zach Scott off the bench. If he does the same at the outset tomorrow, the only question will be whether Marc Burch starts in midfield over Mauro Rosales.

Bonus question, though: What’s up with Obafemi Martins? The Nigerian international’s groin injury’s only allowed him to play once in the last month. This week at practice, there’s been no indication whether he’s improved enough to see action on Saturday.

[MORE: What We Learned from Seattle’s first round win over Colorado]

  • Marcus Hahnemann will get to be the man.

Michael Gspurning was shown one last ounce of faith when Sigi Schmid elevated him back to the starting lineup for the season finale against Los Angeles. After Wednesday’s performance, we may have seen the last of the Austrian goalkeeper this season. Even before his 86th minute blunder (earning a red card that sees him suspended on Saturday), Gspurning looked shaky on two early second half plays.

Hahnemann’s going to have to take them home, and while nobody’s exactly worried about the former Fulham, Reading, and Wolverhampton keeper’s ability to handle the occasion, they may have concerns (or perhaps speculative questions) about the 41-year-old coming off his line.

His hands will be sure, but how often will he use them? And against Portland, will it matter?

[WATCH: Sounders-Timbers will be available on NBC Sports Live Extra]

  • Diamond, diamond, diamond!

Perhaps you heard: Seattle’s playing a new formation. We’ve talking about it, as have others. And by others, I mean everybody. At this point, we’ve probably beaten it into the ground, though it is worth considering how Portland might stretch that midfield diamond.

On the left, Portland has Rodney Wallace. You can’t help but think Caleb Porter likes that matchup against Evans, even if though on the right, the Timbers don’t have an equivalent player to stretch the midfield.

It will be interesting to see if this is one of the rare occasions where Porter flips is fullbacks. A couple of times this season, normal left back Michael Harrington started on the right, moving Jack Jewsbury to the left.

In theory, doing the same on Saturday would allow Harrington to provide that width on the right, pulling Adam Moffat wide. It would also allow Jack Jewsbury to play on the side Eddie Johnson was favoring Wednesday night.

Jewsbury has been very dependable defensive, though a couple of times, extreme pace has been his undoing. Moving the faster Harrington to the right may not be worth the risk, even if Johnson is just as capable of attacking from that side, too.

[MORE: PST Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson edges Brad Evans]

  • Two-on-one against Clint Dempsey

Like Colorado, Portland will play with two deep midfielders in the same area Clint Dempsey will occupy Seattle’s attacking phase. Just don’t expect the Timbers’ duo to be so meek. Whereas Hendry Thomas and Nathan Sturgis were non-factors on Wednesday, Will Johnson and Diego Chará should be important parts of Portland’s game plan.

The key for Seattle may not be finding a solution but exploring alternatives. On Wednesday, the team had a lot of success using Eddie Johnson wide as a way to get around Colorado’s block. Just as we saw on Seattle’s first goal, Johnson in wide spaces always Dempsey to play in front of the holders and go wide before probing space further up.

In their back six (four defenders and last two midfielders), Portland can often look a lot like Colorado did on Wednesday. Perhaps Seattle will find the same success?

[MORE: MLS Playoff Preview: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers]

  • Can Seattle stop this free fall/nose dive/slide?!?

Thankfully, they’ve moved on. (We can stop talking about it!) Now it’s about fulfilling those preseason expectations of challenging for MLS Cup. It’s a long way from a seven-match winless run to a league title, but Seattle took their first step on Wednesday.

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

Yaya Toure talks future, wants to play with Paul Pogba

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There is very little debate: Yaya Toure is his own special case.

The longtime Manchester City midfielder does what he wants, flies his own flag, has the worst agent in the game, and is pleased or dismayed in unusual ways.

[ UCL: What would Real 3-peat mean? ]

Toure, 35, has been linked with a move to NYCFC now that he’s leaving Man City, but the Ivorian still wants to play two more seasons for a Champions League or Europa League club.

And he wants to get together with Paul Pogba. You can see where this is going… (from The Manchester Evening News):

“Pogba is the same size, power – but different in the way he wants to go. Technically as well, the ability to score goals as well. It is a player I want to play with, to be honest, just to teach him some things.”

That must mean both are going to Paris Saint-Germain because… Yaya at Manchester United? No way, right? Right? Even with last year’s reports from his — again — terrible agent that it was an option, that still seems too villainous.

“I don’t rule big teams out. The big teams are very important for me. What they want to achieve, the way they want to go, for me is very important. … I want to go somewhere I can win and achieve. It’s going to be hard one day to play against City, but I have to do that. It is part of my job.”

Toure later said he was “no good in an office,” which had us thinking, well, what if they properly celebrated your birthday, Yaya?

WATCH: Miami United midfielder unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.

Rondon wanted by Atleti, Inter Milan, and West Ham

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The big boys are looking to Salomon Rondon as a bargain striker.

Yes, $22 million is a bargain in the striker market these days.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

West Brom’s Venezuelan international, 28, stands 6’2″ and has a relegation release clause that is reportedly interesting Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, and West Ham United.

Atleti and Inter are in the Champions League next season, but Rondon played for new West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga, posting 25 league goals in two seasons.

He’s scored 24 goals in three Premier League seasons at West Brom, almost a quarter of the 104 produced by the Baggies.

He also picked up three assists this season as the target man for Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, and Darren Moore (and was fouled more often than any other Baggie (Baggy?)).

Rondon and Marko Arnautovic next to each other would be a real handful for PL defenses. Then again, maybe he’ll stay loyal to West Brom and set the Championship scoring record next season.